While most of us can't wait to see those fireworks on Independence Day, those loud bangs can cause you both a load of stress if you have a timid dog. Why are dogs scared of fireworks? Read more to find out why loud noises make our pups shake and how to calm dogs during fireworks!
The exact reason why we love our dogs is the same reason they're afraid of fireworks and thunderstorms - they're emotional and sensitive.
Our sweet pups generally aren't used to fireworks displays, only heard on semi-annual, rare occasions. Dogs have much more sensitive ears and hearing than we do, so when we hear those loud pops and bangs, they sound far more intense than they do to our ears. On top of that, dogs have no idea why they're hearing them - rightfully, they assume loud, booming noises to be dangerous, like the sounds of a large predator.
Can we train our dogs not to fear fireworks?
We can! Though there is a genetic component to the fear of noise, there's also a learned component, and a dog can always un-learn behaviors with different training approaches.
Read more below about why our dogs are afraid of fireworks, how to comfort them at the moment, and how to train your dog better to reduce their anxiety around loud noises.
Why are dogs afraid of fireworks?
Every fourth of July, new dog owners everywhere learn whether or not their dog is afraid of the long bangs and pops of fireworks season. The odds are your dog is likely scared of fireworks, as 60% of dogs tend to show signs of fearfulness when they hear them.
For most dogs with a noise phobia, the experience leads to anxiety and discomfort. Sadly, fear of fireworks may also spook dogs into running away, with more pets going missing on July 4th than any other time and only 14% returning to their homes.
Why do dogs hate fireworks?
- Fireworks are loud, which hurts sensitive ears.
- Fireworks are unpredictable, so a dog never knows when they're about to happen.
- Fireworks pose a threat, as the loud, booming noises could be perceived as a giant beast.
- Fireworks make dogs feel trapped, as the noise is all around them and impossible to avoid.
Nature vs. Nurture
Is it a dog's genes that make it scared of loud noises? Or the way it's raised. The answer is likely both.
Fireworks are the most common trigger for fears in dogs, with most responses of shaking and trembling, hiding, comfort-seeking, panting, excess salivation, and destructive behaviors.
What sound does a dog make when it's scared?
You may notice your pup whining, whimpering, or barking along with the physical responses above.
Are dogs trained to be scared of loud noises?
Most older noise sensitivity theories suggested that a dog learned to be afraid of noise from a traumatic noise-related incident in its past or a lack of exposure to loud, booming noises. A change in a dog's environment is linked to fear, and dogs raised by the same owners that bred them were less afraid of noises as an adult.
Though there's clearly some evidence pointing to how a dog's raised affecting its discomfort around loud noises, newer evidence suggests that genetics play a role, too.
Certain breeds correlate to noise sensitivity and fearfulness. Hunting breeds aren't as sensitive to noise as others, and cross-breeds tend to be more fearful.
Beyond genes, hormones may also come into play - female dogs are 30% more likely to be afraid, and neutered dogs are 72% more likely to display signs of fearfulness.
How to Help Dogs With Fireworks: Keeping them Safe and Calm
#1: Remove them from the situation.
We can't always predict when fireworks will go off, but there are plenty of times, like Independence Day, that we know they're likely to happen. On days when you're likely to hear fireworks, take your pup out for their last walk of the day a little earlier than usual. Ensure sure they use the bathroom, and make sure you keep them fully leashed, just in case a random firework spooks them.
Feed them early, and take their water bowl away 2 hours before bedtime to keep them from needing a late-night bathroom break during the fireworks show.
If you have a reliable friend or family member living away from all the noise, consider taking your dog there for the evening to avoid the firework-related stress.
#2: Build a comforting safe space.
Unless you live in a fortress, your dog will likely still hear fireworks fairly loudly inside your home. To help muffle the sounds and give your dog a comforting den to sneak into if things get stressful, drape a small table with a blanket or a thick blanket over their crate to create a sound barrier.
Keep the crate's door open, so they can come and go as they please without feeling trapped, which can add to their stress. Though you'll want to ensure you create a safe space for your dog to retreat, they will do better having the option of heading anywhere in their house that feels best at the time.
Consider getting a bed ramp for dogs, so they can quickly head to the bed or couch to hide and relieve their fear and anxiety.
#3: Distract your doggo with other noises.
If your doggo is scared of fireworks, you can keep a radio or television on to help mask the loud bangs and reduce anxiety. Your dog is likely used to the sounds of voices on the TV, which can help comfort them and make the loud noises feel a little less disturbing.
Turn up the bass as much as you comfortably can to conceal the deep booms of the fireworks.
#4: Keep the curtains closed.
The flashing lights of fireworks can add to their distress during a fireworks show. Keep your curtains closed to minimize the stimuli your dog needs to manage. Keep your lights on, so any flashes of light through your curtains aren't as apparent to your dog.
#5: Be a good role model.
Animals are susceptible and wise to the emotions of others. If you're stressed about your dog's stress, it feeds a vicious cycle that will make them even more agitated than before.
Reassure your pet, but don't follow them around or be overly affectionate - if they think you're worried about them, they may believe you are validating that there is a real reason to be concerned.
#5: Use toys as distractions.
Play with your dog using its favorite toy, or give them a big tasty bone to distract their minds away from the sound of fireworks.
If you have a puzzle toy like a Kong, fill it with treats to keep them preoccupied.
#6: Make sure they're well-exercised.
Ample exercise is essential to any pup's happiness always, but especially on days when they may be more stressed than usual.
On fireworks holidays, take your pup on an extra-long walk, dog park romp, and add some extra playtime into the day. A tired pooch won't have as much pent-up energy to spend stressing about the fireworks. Though exercise won't altogether remove the fearfulness around fireworks, it can help put their minds and bodies in a good place to manage the anxiety when it comes.
#7: Use calming medications as necessary.
If you've tried the above methods and your dog is still petrified of fireworks, you may want to consult your vet.
You can find options available from mild, natural puppy supplements with melatonin to full-on anti-anxiety prescriptions like Trazodone, Fluoxetine, or Sileo, a medication to help noise phobias specifically. Use a vet's guidance to find the best options for your doggo.
Preparing your Dog for Future Fireworks
- Get your dog microchipped, and keep their microchip details up-to-date, just in the event that your dog makes a run for it.
- Escape-proof your home and yard. Keep the windows and doors closed, and make sure you cover or secure and potential escape routes in your yard.
- Try desensitization training and exposure therapy with a professional dog trainer in the weeks leading up to fireworks. You'll need a safe environment and a knowledgeable professional to administer the training properly.
- You can invest in a "thunder shirt," a dog compression shirt that helps to squeeze your dog and promote feelings of comfort, much like a swaddled baby or weighted blanket.
- Expose your puppy to fireworks within the 4 to 14-week socialization window, which can help them avoid developing fireworks anxiety as an adult.
Final Notes on Dogs and Fireworks
A fireworks show doesn't have to end with your dog in a puddle of fear on the floor.
Using the methods above, you can help minimize your doggo's fears on fireworks day and, over time, work on desensitizing your dog to those loud bangs.